Misuse of Anti-Extremism in December 2023

The following is our review of the primary and most representative events in the misuse of Russia's anti-extremist legislation in December 2023.

Lawmaking

In December, the State Duma passed, the Federation Council approved, and the president signed two laws amending several articles of the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO) and the Criminal Code (CC). These are the norms on discrediting the use of the army (Article 20.3.3 CAO and Article 280.3 CC), disseminating knowingly false information about the use of the armed forces (Article 207.3 CC), and assistance in implementing decisions of international organizations that involve criminal prosecution against Russian officials and military personnel (Article 284.3). The scope of these articles has been extended to protect volunteer formations performing tasks assigned to the Federal National Guard (Rosgvardia). Rosgvardia will now be able to create such volunteer formations by presidential decision.

In late December, Vyacheslav Davankov, a State Duma deputy (the New People faction), introduced a bill aiming to alter the method of calculating the expiration of the limitation period for administrative liability concerning offenses linked to online publications. He suggested amending Article 4.5 CAO to explicitly state that, "for administrative offenses involving the dissemination of messages or other information through information and telecommunication networks, including the Internet," the limitation period should be calculated from the day the administrative offense is committed. Presenting the updated draft law to the Duma, Davankov tried to take into account the critical review provided by the Russian government and added several exceptions to the text of the amendments, such as dissemination of materials aimed at “propaganda of narcotic drugs, non-traditional sexual relations, pedophilia, as well as public calls for terrorist activities” (he reproduced this wording exactly as it appeared in the government review). Presently, administrative offenses involving the dissemination of information on the Internet are considered ongoing, with the statute of limitations calculated from the day of discovery. Consequently, Internet users, particularly those on social networks, frequently face liability for publications made many years ago.

Sanctions for Anti-Government Statements and Activities

Justifying Terrorism

On December 12, the 2nd Western District Military Court, at its visiting session in Syktyvkar, issued a verdict against Boris Kagarlitsky – a left-wing publicist, a political scientist, and the editor-in-chief of Rabkor. The court found him guilty under Article 205.2 Part 2 CC (public justification of terrorism on the Internet) and sentenced him to a fine of 800 thousand rubles, which was reduced to 600 thousand rubles taking into account the time spent in pre-trial detention. Kagarlitsky also faces a two-year ban on administering websites. The publicist had been in pre-trial detention since July 2023 but was released after the sentencing. The state prosecutor asked for five and a half years of imprisonment for Kagarlitsky. The prosecutor's office filed an appeal against the verdict.

The charges were associated with a video dedicated to the explosion on the Crimean Bridge that occurred on October 8, 2022. The video titled "Explosive Congratulations of Bridgie (Mostik) the Cat: Nervous People and Events, Strikes against Infrastructure" was posted on October 19, 2022, on the Rabkor YouTube channel, as well as on VKontakte and Telegram. The incident was reported by Leonid Krasnopyorov, a municipal deputy from Ukhta, leading to the trial taking place in the Komi Republic.

We believe that the verdict is inappropriate, because in the video, which served as the basis for the prosecution, Kagarlitsky only discussed the circumstances, military-strategic significance, and political consequences of the explosion on the bridge but did not express his approval of it. According to Kagarlitsky and his lawyer, the investigation claims were primarily based on the video's title. However, in our opinion, neither the video nor its title contains any statement “recognizing the ideology and practice of terrorism as correct, in need of support and imitation” (the definition of “justification of terrorism,” according to the note to Article 205.2 CC).

On December 26, the same court sentenced Belgorod resident German Yevdokimov to a fine of 300 thousand rubles on similar charges, although the state prosecutor asked for four years of imprisonment. The charges against the Belgorod resident were based on a comment he left on VKontakte under a post about the explosion of the city oil depot, which took place on April 1, 2022, as a result of an airstrike by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The post was also accompanied by the video “Belgorod Oil Depot Attack 04.01.22.” In his comment, Yevdokimov, among other things, called Ukrainian military personnel “good-lookers,” noting that “Ukrainians find it unthinkable to bomb civilians,” and added that if the Russian army “were even 25 percent as good as the U.S. army, bombing our oil depot would be impossible.” We found no indications of justifying terrorism in his text. Yevdokimov spoke positively about the professionalism of Ukrainian military personnel but did not characterize the explosion itself as a positive event.

Inciting Hatred towards the Authorities and Their Supporters

In December, we learned that on November 17, the Kholmsk City Court of the Sakhalin Region fined Andrei Balaban, a citizen of Ukraine, 15,000 rubles. In May, in the presence of his cohabitant, another woman, and two children, he used foul language to describe Vladimir Putin, Wagner Group operatives, "ethnic Russians," and "Russian citizens." In our opinion, Balaban's actions can hardly be considered public, since only a few people heard his statements. Furthermore, he was likely criticizing Russians in general rather than ethnic Russians specifically. Therefore, his statements constituted political criticism, which should not be limited.

We recorded two cases of punishment under Article 20.3.1 CAO for critical statements about law enforcement officers.

  • On December 7, the Taganrog City Court fined local resident Irina Skorovarova 10 thousand rubles for reacting approvingly to an image on Odnoklassniki that was critical of “police officers” in the summer of 2022.
  • On December 8, the Zavodsky District Court of Novokuznetsk fined Roman Kloninger 10 thousand rubles for his comment on a social network under the news about the conflict between representatives of different ethnic groups. Kloninger stated, using foul language, that the police officers were incapable of conducting operative and investigative actions competently. The same court considers a general criminal case against him.

In addition, in December we recorded new cases under Article 20.1 Part 3 CAO opened for “disrespect for authority.”

  • On December 5, the Tsentralny District Court of Sochi issued two fines of 30 thousand rubles each to Roman Kharitonov, a military pensioner, and a Ministry of Internal Affairs veteran, based on reports filed against him a month earlier. The case was rooted in videos containing disrespectful information about the state and, specifically, the president of Russia, which were posted on his personal Telegram channel. On December 22, the court was scheduled to review another report against Kharitonov, but the outcome of the case is currently unknown. Kharitonov defends his rights to a land plot seized from his grandmother and has been publicizing his conflict with the authorities online. He alleges that he was a victim of police abuse during his detention in November.
  • On December 27, the Yalta City Court of the Republic of Crimea imposed a fine, the amount of which has not been reported, on Svetlana Veretennikova. The case was based on her VKontakte post containing references to the Russian president.

On December 1, the Pyatigorsk City Court placed local resident Oleg Vasilenko under arrest for one day under Article 20.29 CAO (mass distribution of extremist materials). The case was based on the video “Let's Remind Crooks and Thieves about their Manifesto-2002” shared on Vasilenko’s VKontakte page since 2013. The video has been banned for negative statements against members of the United Russia party.

On December 28, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow passed a sentence in the Mayakovsky Poetry Readings case. Artyom Kamardin was sentenced to seven years in a minimum-security penal colony, and Yegor Shtovba – to five and a half years. They were found guilty of inciting hatred by an organized group under paragraph “c” Article 282 Part 2 CC and of calls for anti-state activities, also as part of an organized group, under Article 280.4 Part 3 CC. Earlier, the third defendant in the case, Nikolai Daineko, was sentenced to four years in a minimum-security penal colony; he entered a pre-trial agreement with the investigation. The poets faced criminal responsibility after the readings held on September 25, 2023 at Mayakovsky Square in Moscow, which their participants called “anti-mobilization readings.” During the readings, among other statements, Kamardin characterized the Donbas militia as terrorists and recited two poems. According to the investigation, Shtovba and Daineko repeated the words of one of the poems, “Kill me, Militiaman!” Law enforcement agencies have concluded that the statements contained signs of inciting hatred or enmity against volunteer armed groups of the DPR/LPR and called for violence against them and their families. In our opinion, Kamardin's poem can be characterized as provocative, and members of the Donbas militia, their families, and supporters could obviously find his words offensive. However, it contains no incitement to violence. The charge under Article 280.4 was related to the fact that law enforcement agencies found statements about the need to “resist” partial mobilization in the post on the Mayakovsky Poetry Readings Telegram channel, announcing the event. However, Kamardin, Shtovba, and Daineko did not call for the commission of crimes. They wrote about a failure to report to a military enlistment office upon receiving a mobilization summons, which constitutes an administrative offense. Accordingly, we regard their prosecution under the criminal article as inappropriate.

Discrediting the Use of the Armed Forces or Activities of Government Agencies

According to the Mediazona portal as of December 21, the total number of cases received by Russian courts under Article 20.3.3 from the moment of its introduction into the CAO has reached 8,526. The number of defendants in criminal cases initiated under Article 280.3 CC, according to the OVD-Info project, reached 140. Our calculations indicate that courts issued verdicts on 56 of them.

In December, the courts completed their consideration of five cases under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC for repeatedly discrediting the use of Russian armed forces.

  • On December 1, the Sosnovsky District Court of the Tambov Region issued a six-year suspended sentence and a fine of 150 thousand rubles under Article 222.1 Part 1 CC (illegal acquisition, transfer, storage, transportation, forwarding or carrying of explosives or explosive devices) and Article 280.3 Part 1 CC to Oleg Borisenko, a veteran of military operations in Chechnya, Syria and Ukraine and the founder of the military-patriotic club “the Russian” in Tambov. He was charged with the repeated discrediting of the army for pouring paint on a poster with the letters Z and V. Earlier, he was fined 30 thousand rubles for an anti-war sticker and a crossed-out letter Z on his car’s windshield. Another case against him under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC related to the publication of two videos – is currently under investigation.
  • On December 13, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Ivanovo terminated the criminal case against activist Olga Nazarenko charged under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC and Article 212.1 CC (repeated violation of the protocol for holding public events) due to the defendant’s death.
  • On December 15, the Adler District Court of Sochi sentenced Marina Melikhova, a well-known “citizen of the USSR,” to a year and five months in a minimum-security penal colony. According to Melikhova, the case was based on the video “Shock! Not a Single Official Russian Federation Document on the Special Military Operation in Ukraine Was Ever Published” that she posted on VKontakte in 2022 and on her post “Slavs Don't Want War!” Later, the case also came to include another incriminating episode, the post made on Melikhova's behalf on the Telegram channel of activist Mikhail Nazarenko in January 2023. Before that, Melikhova was twice fined 30,000 rubles under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for her publications on YouTube and the Telegram channel of her organization, the Unified Trade Union of Oppositionists (Yediny profsoyuz oppozitionerov). It is also worth noting that Melikhova was sentenced to three and a half years in prison under Article 280 Part 2 CC (public calls for extremist activity) in 2021.
  • On December 16, the Nikolayevsk-on-Amur City Court of Khabarovsk Krai passed a guilty verdict against Sergei Kalalb. At the time of writing this review, there was no information available about the punishment imposed on him. The criminal case against Kalalb was based on a TikTok video featuring an anti-war appeal by an unnamed woman, which was published in his WhatsApp group chat “Kalalb-ur (almost too much)” (Kalalb-ur (na grani fola)) on February 21, 2023. Earlier, he was fined 30,000 rubles for his messages in the same chat room under the administrative article on discrediting the army. In the spring of 2022, Kalalb's son was killed during the special military operation in Ukraine.
  • On December 22, the Sovetsky District Court of Nizhny Novgorod sentenced local teacher, activist, and photographer Ilya Myaskovsky to a fine of 250 thousand rubles for five VKontakte posts, including the posts in the “Nizhny Novgorod Civil Movement” community. In 2022, Myaskovsky was fined 40 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO, also for an anti-war social network post.

In addition, on December 6, the First Cassation Court of General Jurisdiction overturned the appeal ruling in the case of Alexei Moskalyov, a resident of Yefremov in the Tula Region. The materials were forwarded to the Tula Regional Court for reconsideration. The cassation instance raised inquiries regarding the psychological and linguistic expert opinion conducted for the investigation by the Center for Sociocultural Expertise. The expert opinion and the attached educational documents contained no information about the experts' special knowledge in the field of psychology. Additionally, the report was jointly prepared by the authors in violation of the Criminal Procedure Code, rendering it impossible to discern which expert was responsible for any specific part of the research or the conclusions.

On December 14, the Moscow City Court upheld a prosecutorial appeal and simply overturned the sentence of Oleg Orlov, co-chairman of the council of the Memorial Human Rights Center, who was fined 150,000 rubles in October. The case was returned to the prosecutor's office. The agency believes the earlier indictment and sentence failed to take into account the motive of political and ideological hatred.

Another case was returned to the prosecutor in St. Petersburg. The Kuibyshevsky District Court made this decision in the case of Alyona Abramova on December 21. The court found out that Abramova had the status of an election commission member with a deciding vote, which means that the head of the St. Petersburg Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee, rather than the Ministry of Internal Affairs, should have opened a case against her.

Four cases initiated under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC were reported in December.

  • Back in May, a case was opened against Andrei Mitrofanov from Berezniki in Perm Krai. He was detained and placed under house arrest in July and taken into custody in August. In 2022, Mitrofanov was fined three times, 30,000 rubles each, under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for his posts on VKontakte. However, the regional court canceled two of the fines.
  • In September, a case was opened in the Omsk Region against Anastasia Gordienko, a retiree from Odessky District, for her posts on social networks. In 2022, she was fined 30 thousand rubles under the administrative article (discrediting the army) for showing up with an anti-war poster at the Bohdan Khmelnitsky monument in Omsk.
  • In November, a criminal case was filed in Yekaterinburg against Stanislav Shminke, a local artist and the founder of the Uralnash online portal currently residing abroad. In February 2023, the court fined, under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO, Shminke personally in the amount of 100 thousand rubles as an official, and Uralnash – 300 thousand rubles as a legal entity. The case was based on an anti-war statement published on the portal.
  • On December 28, priest Viktor Pivovarov from Slavyansk (archbishop of Slavyansk and the South Russia of Rossiyskaya pravoslavnaya Tserkov, RosPTs, a non-canonical orthodox association) reported that a criminal case was opened against him for repeated discrediting of the army based on his published text “The Answer to the Question That Worries Everyone Today: What Is This War?” In March 2023, Pivovarov was fined 40 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for his anti-war statements during a sermon. In November, his assistant, Hieromonk Iona (Ilya Sigida), was fined 30,000 rubles for publishing the article "The Cult of War" on the church’s website.

“Fakes about the Army” Motivated by Hatred

We consider sanctions under paragraph “e” of Article 207.3 Part 2 CC (dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the Russian army on the grounds of political hatred) inappropriate unless the imputed statements contain calls to violence.

In December, the courts finalized three cases involving such allegations.

  • On December 15, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow sentenced theater and film director Ivan Vyrypayev, in absentia, to eight years in a minimum-security penal colony. In addition to the principal punishment, he was banned from administering Internet resources for four years. The case was based on anti-war publications on Vyrypayev's website, as well as his interviews on the YouTube channels “Kak Teper” and “Khodorkovsky LIVE” and an interview with Radio NVC (Chicago).
  • On December 22, the Gagarinsky District Court of Moscow sentenced Lyudmila Tolmachyova, in absentia, to eight and a half years of imprisonment and banned her from administering websites for four and a half years. The reason for the sanctions imposed on the Moscow resident is unknown.
  • On December 25, the Kalininsky District Court of St. Petersburg referred activist Viktoria Petrova for compulsory treatment in a general psychiatric hospital. The criminal case against Petrova was based on her anti-war post on VKontakte. The content of the post pertained to the special military operation in Ukraine and, according to the investigation, contradicted the data provided by the Russian Defense Ministry. Petrova was in pre-trial detention since May 2022. In October 2023, she was transferred to a psychiatric hospital because, according to doctors, her condition did not allow her to participate in court hearings.

Displaying Banned Symbols

We classify sanctions against people who display Nazi symbols with no purpose of advocating Nazism are inappropriate. One such case was reported in December. On September 21, the Elista City Court (Republic of Kalmykia) sentenced Sanan Ulanov, who had a prior conviction, under Article 282.4 Part 1 CC (repeated public display of Nazi symbols) to two years in a settlement colony. On December 5, the Supreme Court of Kalmykia overturned the verdict and completely acquitted Ulanov, but this decision was made posthumously, as the defendant had committed suicide.

It follows from the appeal verdict that on July 9, 2020, the Elista City Court fined Ulanov one thousand rubles under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO (public display of Nazi symbols) for posting a photo of people dressed “in military uniforms with the Russian Liberation Army chevrons” in the “DOSKA POZORA Elista” [Elista Board of Shame] community on VKontakte. An “official image of the flag of the Russian Federation” was displayed above this photo. Ulanov considered himself a “citizen of the USSR” and did not pay the fine not recognizing the legitimacy of the Russian Federation’s authorities. Therefore, the court ruling was never executed, and the Elista resident was still regarded as facing punishment under Article 20.3 CAO. The repeated demonstration of prohibited symbols by a person still under penalty is subject to criminal liability.

On April 26 and July 24, 2022, Ulanov posted on his VKontakte page a link to a YouTube video of the song “Take the Vlasov banner off the Golden-Domed Kremlin!” which contained Nazi symbols. The Supreme Court of Kalmykia, however, stated that the ban on the demonstration of symbols does not apply to statements that formed a negative attitude to the ideology of Nazism and extremism. Furthermore, the court found no signs of propaganda or justification of Nazi and extremist ideology. "The appellate court noted that the evidence in the case did not contain any proof of Ulanov's specific intent. Furthermore, the disseminated video was not intended to form a positive attitude toward Nazism, nor did it insult the memory of the Great Patriotic War victims. We agree with this conclusion. The song and the video “Take the Vlasov banner off the Golden-Domed Kremlin!” are indeed not intended as Nazi propaganda. Their authors only oppose the use of the tricolor as the national flag of the Russian Federation, because they consider it a banner of the Russian Liberation Army collaborationists.

In December, we became aware of four cases of inappropriate sanctions under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO, all of them related to the distribution of the slogan “Glory to Ukraine.”

  • On November 24, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Vladimir sentenced Sarkhan Aliev to 14 days under arrest for sharing on his VKontakte page a video of Vladimir Zelensky's speech at a rally in memory of Azerbaijanis killed during the hostilities in Ukraine. Aliev’s caption accompanying the video expressed his support for Zelensky and used the slogan “Glory to Ukraine!” with the response “Glory to the Heroes!”
  • On December 6, the Yalta City Court imposed an (unspecified) punishment under this article on Sergei Volkov, a resident of Gurzuf. Volkov had a fistfight with the father of a participant in the special military operation in Ukraine; during the fight, he shouted “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!” Volkov was also placed under arrest for 10 days under Article 20.1 Part 1 CAO (disorderly conduct) and fined 40 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO.
  • On December 12, the Kievsky District Court of Simferopol placed Nikita Valeev under arrest for seven days. Valeev shared a song titled “Glory to Ukraine!” on VKontakte. He was also fined 40 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO.
  • On December 26, the Alushta City Court placed Denis Grytsenko under arrest for 12 days. He signed “Glory to Ukraine” in his passport of a citizen of the Russian Federation and other documents.

Organized Anti-Government Activities

On December 19, the Meshchansky District Court of Moscow passed a sentence on Alyona Krylova, a defendant in the Left Resistance (Levoe soprotivlenie) case. The court found her guilty of participating in an extremist community (Article 282.1 Part 2 CC) and sentenced her to two years of imprisonment in a minimum-security penal colony, and to restriction of freedom for six months as an additional punishment. Earlier, Krylova was arrested in Kyrgyzstan, then released from custody, but later found herself back in Russia.

It is worth reminding that the court found the Left Resistance leader, Darya Polyudova, guilty under Article 282.1 Part 1 CC (creating an extremist community) and Article 205.2 Part 2 CC and sentenced her to nine years in a minimum-security penal colony, adding three years to her previous sentence. Her associate Kirill Kotov received a three-year suspended sentence under Article 282.1 Part 2 CC. Another member of the movement, Sergei Kirsanov, was sentenced to compulsory treatment.

Polyudova created the Left Resistance movement in 2017 under the slogans of commitment to true Marxism, a revival of the third “anti-Stalinist” Communist International, and “democratic revolution in Russia,” which would begin as “decolonization of the regions and peoples of Russia” and continue as “international revolution to liberate all peoples and regions of the planet.” "The recognition of Left Resistance as an extremist community is, in our opinion, not entirely unfounded. The movement's VKontakte page did publish calls for the violent overthrow of the government." At the same time, it should be taken into account that the group was small, enjoyed little popularity, and, as far as we know, made no preparations for actual violent activity, and therefore, in our opinion, posed no great public danger. Therefore, we doubt the proportionality of sentencing members of the movement to imprisonment.

On December 29, the Sovetsky District Court of Tomsk sentenced Xenia Fadeeva, an ex-coordinator of the local Navalny Headquarters and a deputy of the Tomsk City Duma, to nine years in a minimum-security penal colony and a fine of 500 thousand rubles. She was found guilty under Article 282.1 Part 3 CC (creating an extremist community using her official position) and Article 239 Part 3 CC (participation in a non-profit organization whose activities are associated with encouraging citizens to commit illegal acts). She was released from punishment for the second charge due to the expiry of the limitation period.

The structures of Alexei Navalny and his supporters – the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), the Citizens' Rights Defense Fund (FZPG), and the Navalny Headquarters network – were recognized as extremist organizations in the summer of 2021 (in our opinion, inappropriately). Since September 2021, the Investigative Committee has started treating the activities carried out by Navalny's structures before the ban as activities of an extremist community qualified under Article 282.1 CC. Their public events (held without a permit) now entail charges under Article 239 CC. Two dozen regional activists who had previously participated in the activities of Navalny's structures and the opposition leader himself became defendants in cases under these articles. In our opinion, the arguments used by the Investigative Committee to justify charging Navalny and his supporters with creating an extremist community are unconvincing (for more details, see here), so we consider Fadeeva's sentence inappropriate.

Protecting Historical Memory and Traditional Values

“Rehabilitating Nazism”

Law enforcement agencies continue the practice of prosecutions under Article 354.1 Parts 3 and 4 CC for “disseminating information expressing clear disrespect for society about the days of military glory,” “desecrating symbols of military glory” and “insulting the memory of defenders of the Fatherland.” In particular, they punish showing disrespect for Victory Day, monuments, and symbols of Russia’s military glory.

In December, we became aware of three such verdicts.

  • On December 7, the Tula Regional Court sentenced Sergei Sosov to three years of compulsory labor under Article 354.1 Part 4 CC (disseminating information expressing clear disrespect to society about the days of military glory of Russia via the Internet, insulting the memory of defenders of the Fatherland). The case was based on a collage published on Sosov's VKontakte page on June 14, 2021 – an “Immortal Regiment” photograph with a veteran’s portrait replaced by a photo of Adolf Hitler. The purpose behind Sosov's publication of this image remains unclear. However, it is worth pointing out that he made multiple posts on his page every day most likely sharing any content that caught his attention. We believe that the purpose of this spirited activity was not to promote Nazism.
  • On December 19, the Supreme Court of Tatarstan sentenced Renat Kalimullin, a resident of Zelenodolsk, to 10 months of corrective labor with a 15% wage deduction under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC (public desecration of a symbol of military glory of Russia, insulting the memory of defenders of the Fatherland). According to the investigation, whose version of events was upheld by the court, on July 30, 2023, Kalimullin, while in a state of alcoholic intoxication, came to the local Victory Park and started burning the insulation off an electric cable in the Eternal Flame to sell the cable wire for scrap metal later. The guard and the sailors, who had come to lay flowers at the memorial, reprimanded him, and he subsequently left the park for a while, but later returned and continued burning off the insulation. In court, Kalimullin said that his lighter was broken, so he decided to use the Eternal Flame while no one was watching. He expressed his remorse for what he had done and stated that he was “not some kind of terrorist,” but “alcohol had dulled his vigilance.” The state prosecutor confirmed that, according to the psychiatric examination, Kalimullin had mental and behavioral disorders – he was “dependent on alcohol, has been repeatedly treated for chronic alcoholism, and is unemployed.”
  • On December 20, the Leningrad Regional Court sentenced Vsevolozhsk resident Alexander Kudryashov to a fine of 1.4 million rubles under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC. Kudryashov was arrested in October 2022, after he painted graffiti that consisted of the letter “Z,” an equal sign, and a swastika on a kilometer sign and an anti-aircraft gun pedestal. These objects formed part of the “Broken Ring” memorial, erected on the shore of Lake Ladoga to commemorate the Siege of Leningrad. Initially, the case was started under paragraph “b” of Article 243.4 Part 2 CC (damage to the monument to those killed in the Great Patriotic War). However, it turned out that the paint had been washed off from the memorial structures, and thus no harm had been done to them. Therefore, the investigation reclassified the charge to Article 214 Part 2 CC (vandalism motivated by political hatred) and released Kudryashov under a ban on certain actions. Then the charge was reclassified to Article 354.1 Part 3 and Article 167 Part 1 CC (willful destruction or damage to property, not causing significant damage). However, the court found Kudryashov guilty only under the first article.


Two new cases were reported in this category.

  • On December 8, Yuri Malev, a citizen of both Russia and the United States, was detained in St. Petersburg; he was taken into custody the next day. Malev faces charges under Article 354.1 Part 4 CC in connection with the following offenses. On June 8, 2022, he published on Odnoklassniki an image of the St. George ribbon and an obscene caption containing an “identifying attribute of a person with non-traditional sexual orientation.” Next, on May 8, 2023, he posted on the same social network an image of a corpse with the caption “How to properly wear the St. George ribbon.” According to the investigation, he not only desecrated the symbol of military glory, spread disrespectful information about Victory Day, and insulted the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland but also humiliated the honor and dignity of veterans of the Great Patriotic War. This includes a certain K. (born in 1937), who lodged a complaint with law enforcement authorities.
  • On December 20, we learned about the initiation of proceedings under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC against a resident of Kurgan, who, two days earlier, poured water from a bottle onto the Eternal Flame on the Alley of Glory.

Incitement to Ethnic Hatred

On December 16, the State Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee of Russia in Moscow initiated proceedings under Article 282 Part 2 CC (incitement of hatred or enmity) against two rappers: 17-year-old Islam Zakirov, performing under the pseudonym Recidiv, and Sherafgan Sharipov (Sheraph'gun). The charges were based on individual punchlines uttered by the performers during rap battles (rappers’ competitions in which participants try to insult each other in the most original way possible).

Zakirov, in his November appearance on the BRP Battle platform, mentioned (using foul language) that he was making a “preemptive strike” against a “pregnant Russian” (probably meaning that he did not want his opponent to leave offspring or people like him to be born in general). Sharipov, during his battle with rapper Tyulen at the MC Cup venue, drew attention to his opponent's long hair and said that he was ready to scalp him, even though Tyulen “didn't try to bum a cigarette from him,” – thus hinting at the xenophobic attack in the Moscow Region in the summer of 2023 (a young punk was scalped by two passers-by after he asked them for a cigarette).

In December, the far-right Telegram channel Mnogonatsional posted excerpts from the battles, followed by Readovka. Subsequently, police detained Zakirov and forced him to publicly apologize to Russian women and the Russian people in general. On December 19, the Zamoskvoretsky District Court of Moscow took the rapper into custody under paragraph “a” of Article 282 Part 2 CC (incitement of hatred or enmity with the threat of violence). Nothing was reported about Sharipov's whereabouts.

We believe that when deciding whether it is appropriate to prosecute rappers, the form and communicative context of their statements should be taken into account. Battle rap is a specific genre, and punchlines are its integral element. These lines, often built on wordplay and unexpected, provocative comparisons, aim to insult the opponent as caustically as possible. Extremely harsh statements are inherent in battle rap as a genre; they are used in the context of the verbal fight but, as a rule, not outside it. In our opinion, even if rappers mention acts of xenophobic violence, their intention is not to incite hatred or even humiliate an ethnic or other group, but to present the audience with the most sophisticated insult possible. Such insults are often based on playing up a current event or phenomenon of social life or on exploiting popular stereotypes. Not only the opponents but also the audience consider them acceptable means of artistic expression in a battle. Therefore, we are inclined to believe that in these cases, rappers’ actions constitute no crime objectively or subjectively. It is worth noting that criminal cases were opened not based on the reports of battle participants or spectators, familiar with the content in its entirety, but as a result of the purposeful publication of the rappers’ phrases taken out of context on channels that are very far removed from the genre. As we have already repeatedly noted, interpreting creative expression often proves to be an exceedingly challenging task for law enforcement agencies.

Distribution of Extremist Materials

On December 22, the Neftekamsk City Court of the Republic of Bashkortostan fined Airat Nuraev, the owner of the Muslim clothing and paraphernalia store “Muslim,” three thousand rubles under Article 20.29 CAO. In the store, they found a book The True Islamic Personality of the Muslim as Defined in the Quran and Sunnah by Muhammad Ali al-Hashimi, recognized as extremist material. We believe that there was no sufficient reason to ban the book. It is a set of ethical norms and rules of daily life for faithful Muslims that, in our opinion, contain no signs of extremism.

“Insulting the Feelings of Believers”

In December, it became known that on November 17, a magistrate of Judicial District No. 5 of Gagarinsky District in Sevastopol issued a verdict against 23-year-old Yalta resident Ilya Filimonenkov, a Sevastopol State University student and a member of the Communist Party and Leninist Komsomol of the Russian Federation. He was found guilty of insulting the religious feelings of believers (Article 148 Part 1 CC) and sentenced to 200 hours of community service. According to the version of the investigation, accepted by the court, in March 2022, the student wrote obscene messages “insulting the feelings of followers of one of the world religions” in a group chat on Telegram.

On December 14, a magistrate of Judicial District No. 1 of Suzdal and Suzdalsky District of the Vladimir Region fined 70-year-old local resident Anatoly Budaev 50 thousand rubles under the same article. Between March 2021 and July 2022, Budaev published 11 images on Odnoklassniki, including “depictions of a clergyman burning a girl at the stake, as well as a clergyman standing on the floor decorated with a Nazi swastika, etc.” Budayev admitted that he disliked “believers in general and Christianity in particular,” because he was an atheist.

Involvement in the Columbine Movement

On December 13, it became known that the Central District Military Court sentenced an 18-year-old resident of Ufa to five and a half years in a juvenile correctional facility for involvement in the banned “Columbine” movement. She was found guilty under Article 205.5 Part 2 CC (participating in the activities of a terrorist organization) and Article 205.2 Part 2 CC. The sentence came into legal force. Probably, this is the sentence that was passed back on February 16 and approved by the Military Court of Appeal on September 4, 2023. According to the regional FSB directorate, the defendant “justified the need to commit mass murder” in closed groups on social networks and called for participation in the activities of Columbine, which is banned as a terrorist organization in Russia. "She left school after the ninth grade, and, according to the FSB, she developed a plan of attack against it and intended to purchase weapons.".

On December 27, a case under Article 30 Part 1 and paragraph “a” of Article 105 Part 2 CC (preparing the murder of two or more persons) and Article 205.5 Part 2 CC was opened against a ninth-grader from Yegoryevsk near Moscow. According to the investigation, he planned to commit an attack against his school.

Persecution against Religious Organizations and Believers

Jehovah's Witnesses

In December, Jehovah's Witnesses continued to be prosecuted on charges of involvement in local religious organizations that were deemed extremist and banned.

We are aware of six sentences handed down in December against 29 people.

  • On December 5, 2023, the Surgut City Court of Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug passed a sentence in the case of twenty Jehovah's Witnesses: Sergei Loginov, Timofei Zhukov, Yevgeny Kayriak, Leonid Rysikov, Pavel Romashov, Savely Gargalyk, Artyom Kim, Igor Trifonov, Vyacheslav Boronos, Yevgeny Fedin, Igor Petrov, Vasili Burenescu, Igor Kobotov, Victor Fefilov, Sergei Volosnikov, Alexei Plyokhov, Artur Severinchik, and Viola Shepel, as well as two other defendants whose names are unknown. They received suspended sentences ranging from three years three months to seven years. Depending on their respective roles, they were charged under Part 1 or Part 2 of Article 282.2 (organizing the activities of an extremist organization or participating in it), or under Article 282.3 Part 1 CC (financing extremist activities).
  • On December 7, the Kirovsky District Court of Kazan sentenced Alexei Gerasimov to six years behind bars under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC.
  • On December 18, the Novosibirsky District Court of the Novosibirsk Region sentenced Valery Maletskov to six years of imprisonment under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC, and Marina Chaplykina – to four years of imprisonment under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC and Article 282.3 Part 1 CC.
  • On December 19, the Dimitrovsky District Court of Kostroma issued a six-year suspended sentence to Valentina Samus under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC.
  • On December 22, the Cheryomushkinsky District Court of Moscow sentenced Alexander Rumyantsev to seven and a half years of imprisonment, Sean Pike, a native of Guyana – to seven years, and Eduard Sviridov – to six and a half years. All three were found guilty under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC.
  • On December 29, the Norilsk City Court of the Krasnoyarsk Region issued six-year suspended sentences to Alexander Polozov and Stepan Shevelyov having found them guilty on similar charges.

One verdict was overturned. On December 5, the Khabarovsk Krai Court sent the case of Lyubov Ovchinnikova and Lyubov Kocherova from the village of Knyaze-Volkonskoye for a new trial. They had previously received six-year suspended sentences under Part 1.1 and Part 2 of Article 282.2 CC (involving others in the activities of an extremist organization and participating in it). On December 7, the judge of the Khabarovsk District Court, who reviewed the case of their fellow villager Valery Rabota, recused herself – so his trial has to start again.

Two other sentences were reduced.

  • On December 19, the Amur Regional Court changed the sentence of retiree Vladimir Balabkin, sentenced to four years of imprisonment under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC by the Belogorsk City Court in September. The appellate court reclassified Balabkin's actions under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC and replaced the punishment with a one-year suspended sentence.
  • On December 20, the Pskov Regional Court reduced the prison sentence imposed on Alexei Khabarov from Porkhov under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC by two months, down to two years and four months of imprisonment.

On December 18, the Ninth Cassation Court of General Jurisdiction sent the case of Dmitry Barmakin, charged under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC, for a new appellate review. In 2021, the Pervorechensky district court of Vladivostok fully acquitted him, but the Primorsky Krai Court overturned the verdict. On reconsideration, the court sentenced Barmakin to eight years of imprisonment. The appellate instance was, once again, not satisfied with the verdict and canceled it, returning the case to the court of first instance. Now this decision will be reconsidered as well.

At least one new criminal case was opened in December. On December 7, Kirill Chekolaev was detained in Vladivostok and then placed in pre-trial detention. He has been charged under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC as part of the investigation into the activities of a Jehovah's Witnesses group led by Yury Byche.